BWW Review: THE LAST HOTEL - We Hope You Enjoy Your Stay

In the twisted worlds of Enda Walsh, the conspiratorial forces for change and stasis always collide. In recent years that transformation has been exhaustively imaginable, if not attainable, with the hope ushered in by Donnacha Dennehy's music.

Their new opera for Landmark Productions and Wide Open Opera is the latest play on Walsh's formula. The isolated setting is an abandoned hotel, still fitted for purpose by a Caretaker (Mikel Murfi). There is something strange suppressed under the polite meeting of an English couple (Robin Adams and Katherine Manley) and an Irish woman (Claudia Boyle).

Banal observations ("Nice decorative features, feels homely") are underscored by a lush current of whistling flutes and violins strokes played by the Crash Ensemble, expertly led by conductor Alan Piersen. The rapid minimalist bars of Dennehy's composition are propped up by a groaning cello and trumpet. While adding momentum, the music is also intrinsic to the action: building with a rush to the quickening of a character's pulse; chopping sharply for a meditation on suicide.

A notceable change comes with Manley's accompaniment: the piano lands softer and the score takes time to breathe as her soprano voice forms the sad existence of a rejected spouse, pining for a kiss. Comparatively, heavy orchestration matches Adams, a barrel-chested baritone who blasts out a simple man's downward spiral in pursuit of Odysseus-like perfection.

Meanwhile, Boyle beguilingly gives shape to a Woman tortured by thankless children and gutted romances, finding peace in a moment of invisibility. The possibility of renewal is breathlessly expansive with Walsh's libretto moving from the absurd to the ethereal. As judged by the tattered lanterns on either side of Jamie Vartan's drab hotel set, glowing like dying stars, the action leaves the microcosmic for the cosmic.

Perhaps opera is the medium where transcendence is possible in Walsh's milieu. But in departing we see what's left behind: the sad universes we build of our lives.

The Last Hotel runs at the O'Reilly Theatre as part of Dublin Theatre Festival until 3 Oct, and then tours to London and New York until 17 January. For tickets and more information, see the Last Hotel website. Photo: Patrick Redmond.

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From This Author Chris McCormack

Chris McCormack is a theatre critic based in Dublin. He blogs on and writes for A Younger Theatre, Irish Theatre Magazine and the Arts (read more...)

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